Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are urged to join World Cup boycott to punish Vladimir Putin

JOE MURPHY
Politicians have called on Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to boycott the World Cup: EPA

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron today came under growing pressure to unite with Theresa May by boycotting the World Cup in Russia.

Some 60 politicians from 15 European nations joined forces to urge the pair to punish Russian leader Vladimir Putin for the Salisbury nerve gas attack by staying away.

The campaign was launched by German Green MEP Rebecca Harms and snowballed into an EU-wide move to press European leaders to stand together in the face of Kremlin aggression.

“While we agree that sport can help build metaphorical bridges, as long as Putin is blowing up real ones in Syria we cannot pretend this World Cup is just like any other major sporting event,” MEPs said in an open letter.

Mrs May announced that ministers and members of the royal family would not attend the World Cup in Russia, within days of the attempted murder of ex-spy Sergei Skripal using deadly Novichok nerve agent.

A week later, Iceland announced it would also stage a diplomatic boycott in support of the UK, and Polish president Andrzej Duda said he would not attend the opening ceremony on June 14.

But so far France and Germany, the most influential nations in the EU, have not followed suit. The open letter was signed by MEPs from both countries as well as the Netherlands, Ireland, Poland and Sweden plus five Britons.

Poisoned: former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia before the nerve agent attack in Salisbury

Denouncing “Vladimir Putin’s contempt for our European values”, the letter invites “all EU governments” to deny the Russian leader a propaganda victory at the football contest. They urged: “We cannot pretend that this tournament’s host is our welcoming neighbour.”

Meanwhile a senior Commons committee chairman said Britain could be doing “a lot more” to put pressure on Putin’s “gangster” regime. Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, head of the foreign affairs committee, said the UK should follow the United States’ lead in imposing harsh sanctions on close associates of the Russian president.

Five other committees are to co-operate in a special investigation into Russian activities, including in Salisbury and Syria. The cross-party Russia co-ordination group held its first meeting on Wednesday.

Mr Tugendhat told BBC Radio: “I am very keen that we respond in a particularly targeted fashion against those who are effectively the oligarchs, the princes around the new emperor in the Kremlin.

“I think it is important we target those who support Putin and his effective gangster regime.

“There is a lot more we can do and the reaction of the recent sanctions from the US on the Russian government were extremely powerful and were very clearly noted by the Kremlin.”

Earlier this month the US introduced a wave of economic sanctions against Russian business figures with links to Putin. Britain, the US and many allies have also expelled Russian diplomats over the poisoning of Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said relations between Moscow and the West were now worse than at the time of the Cold War.

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